Audubon staff rally for union

By Jeremy P. Jacobs | 06/16/2021 12:27 PM EST

Staff at the National Audubon Society, one of the nation's leading conservation groups, are attempting to unionize. A bird watcher in Manitoba is shown. Dave Reede/Newscom

National Audubon Society staff will rally tomorrow to press management to recognize a union after being rebuffed last month, according to the organizers.

The "Audubon for All" effort last month said it had garnered the support of a majority of roughly 400 eligible workers, and it sought to move toward collective bargaining.

Interim Audubon CEO Elizabeth Gray and management did not recognize the union, and in response, organizers announced a rally tomorrow outside the advocacy group’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. They will deliver a petition with 10,000 signatures from current and former employees, as well as lawmakers like Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.).

The standoff, however, appears to be driven mostly by a process dispute.

In a statement to E&E News, Gray said the decision to form a union is up to staff, and Audubon management "will remain neutral during this process."

Gray said the group is waiting to see the results from an election. In an email to staff last month, Gray decided not to voluntarily recognize the union, saying an election would better ensure that "every employee has a voice and that each and every employee who will be affected by this decision has a right to exercise that voice."

"[W]e support a fair, open, democratic election process that will allow all union-eligible employees to privately make this choice for themselves," Gray said today. "Every staff person who has a stake should have a vote."

She added: "Audubon is eagerly awaiting that election and will honor the results."

Employees at Audubon began organizing in response to a series of workplace problems last year. POLITICO reported in November on mishandled race trainings and the departure of two top diversity, equity and inclusion officials. Audubon also announced two rounds of layoffs last year, including one on Earth Day.

The organization has said those reductions were due to pandemic-related budget constraints, and the group has since rehired some of those employees.

Audubon’s handling of those issues catalyzed the union drive, which is seeking to organize under the umbrella of the Communications Workers of America. Audubon’s management faced further criticism when it hired a well-known union-busting consulting firm (Greenwire, March 17).

A third-party audit concluded that the advocacy group contained a "culture of retaliation, fear and antagonism" toward people of color and women, confirming some of the allegations in the POLITICO report but not others (Greenwire, May 6).

The issues led CEO David Yarnold to step down. He was replaced by Gray, the first woman to serve as Audubon’s CEO.

Audubon for All organizers pointed to other successful efforts at the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and the Sunrise Movement in calling for the national organization to recognize their union and move to collective bargaining.

They said they conducted a card count led by Markey last month and a majority of workers opted to join the union, but Gray "refused to voluntarily recognize" it.

"By gathering at Audubon’s doorstep with the petition in-hand," the group said, "workers aim to convince Dr. Gray to do the right thing and recognize the Audubon for All Union."